Editor’s note: This commentary is by Karen Blakelock, who is a master’s of Environmental Law and Policy student at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.
Overconsumption is on the line for Vermonters this holiday season, and not in the way you might think. The governor’s Department of Public Service reports that we send over $150 million a year out of state to pay for heating and transportation fuels — we don’t have to. There are more efficient ways to heat our buildings and to get a mile down the road.
The governor has the opportunity to join the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) and has seen recommendations to button up Vermonters’ homes so they waste less energy — both of which will save us money.
Governor, here is your chance to help Vermont into the 21st century: Approve Vermont’s next step in joining the Transportation Climate Initiative by the end of the year so that we can invest in our rural communities. This is our chance to join alongside other New England and Mid-Atlantic states to finance cleaner, more efficient transportation solutions that will save money, reduce pollution, and allow us to provide services that rural Vermonters need.
Lack of transportation options pose a unique problem for Vermont as the rural nature of our state presents unnecessary challenges to those without a car. One-third of Vermonters do not drive, and our lack of public transportation makes it difficult for rural community members to get to the grocery store, visit the doctor, and access basic services. Ultimately, this amounts to an equality issue as rural Vermonters lack access to employment and education opportunities without transportation options. TCI will help us change this.
TCI aims to improve public health, limit climate change causing emissions, and help citizens and businesses save money. We can accomplish these goals by building a more diverse and resilient transportation system.
It is estimated that hurricanes Irene and Sandy caused as much as $250 million in damages to Vermont’s roads and bridges. If we pass up the opportunity to fortify our transportation infrastructure through TCI generated funding we’re certain to experience similar catastrophic costs in the future.
Funds earned through TCI will be invested back into our communities in the form of public transit options and community land-use planning to increase rural Vermonters’ access to goods and services. This initiative will save us money and improve our current situation, so what are we waiting for?
The governor has heard similar recommendations in the past. Weatherization assistance provides a comparable opportunity for Vermonters to save money and resources by improving fuel efficiency in Vermont homes. In doing so we reduce energy use, respond to health and safety concerns, and cut costs. Almost a third of Vermonters would benefit from legislation that supports fuel efficiency by way of weatherizing our homes.
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Critics are quick to label these programs “taxes.” They are misguided. In the long term, it is fiscally irresponsible to let TCI pass Vermont by. We are a regional and national leader in our environmentalism, and Vermonters deserve the opportunity to participate in a money-saving initiative alongside the states we consider our peers.
The data is clear: support for fuel efficiency (through TCI and weatherization assistance programs) is good for the planet, Vermont communities, and our wallets.
Unfortunately, Gov. Phil Scott’s position maintains the status quo: a reality in which transportation and heating costs present an unnecessary burden for Vermonters. The governor has until the end of the year to make a decision: choose to invest in our communities, or let Vermonters continue to throw money out the window while the solution is waiting on his desk to be signed.